Wednesday Sermon: The Children’s Crumbs

Wednesday Sermon: The Children’s Crumbs September 2, 2015

"The Woman of Canaan" by Michael Angelo Immenraet. Public Domain. Wikimedia. Some Changes Made.
“The Woman of Canaan” by Michael Angelo Immenraet. Public Domain. Wikimedia. Some Changes Made.

Pastors have a frequent question when they begin to discover mimetic theory. “That’s great. But how does it preach?”

Reverends Tom and Laura Truby shows that mimetic theory is a powerful tool that enables pastors to preach the Gospel in a way that is meaningful and refreshing to the modern world. Each Wednesday, Teaching Nonviolent Atonement will highlight Tom and Laura’s sermons as an example of preaching the Gospel through mimetic theory.

Year B, Pentecost 15
September 6th, 2015
By Thomas L. Truby
Mark 7:24-30

The Children’s Crumbs

Geography is important in Mark and so we have to know where places are to understand what is being communicated.  Jesus’ own people saw the world divided into two; between our people and all other people.  They believed they were the chosen, good people, the ones God loved and they live here and all others are the bad people that God and they want nothing to do with. They live there. Every town, every region, every area was seen in light of this division The text has Jesus setting out to visit regions they all know as alien.

This territorial awareness reminds me of growing up north of Randolph, Nebraska; my town and a town inhabited primarily by people of German descent. Being north of town we lived near the territory that belonged to Wausa; Swedish people:  Swansons, Johnsons, and Andersons; tall blonds with advantages in basketball.  Driving west through their territory had a different, more foreign feel for me.  Now this is all irrational and even humorous but I felt it as a kid and still feel it when I go back sixty years later.

Recently something new has developed.  With the changes in agriculture most shallow wells in the land have either gone dry or become polluted and so our farm is being hooked up to a new source for our drinking water.  And of all places, our water is being piped from Wausa!  When I visited there this summer I found myself drinking water drawn from wells of people of Swedish descent!

Does that give you a feel for what’s happening with Jesus and his disciples as they travel into the foreign region of Tyre?  Jesus had been traveling along the safe and familiar north shore of the Sea of Galilee and now he heads toward the region of Tyre, the territory of Gentiles.

For some reason “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there,” but “He could not escape notice.” “A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him.”  This woman came and bowed down at his feet.  She is Gentile, a Greek of Syrophoenician origin.  She is from Wausa, only more so!   She is a foreigner and a daughter of the ancient enemies of Jesus’ people.

She is an outsider, a non-person that can be officially ignored and a woman and she has a daughter with an unclean spirit.  She fails in almost every purity code category by which Jesus’ people ordered their world.  This woman who can’t pass a single test “begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”  She knows she brings nothing, has no rights and must appeal to his mercy alone.

Jesus’ response is notably grumpy.  “He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  What a mean thing to say!  He suggest that he has responsibility to feed his own people first and since she is not one of his own people, she and her daughter are no better than a dog to him.  This is one of those texts I would never touch if I weren’t a lectionary preacher.

How will this foreign woman respond?  “‘Sir, She answered him, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’”  She does not take offense.  Instead she addresses Jesus with respect.

Interpreters have always struggled with this passage.  How would you explain it?  Some people simply doubt that Jesus could say such a thing.  It is too un-Jesus like so he must not have said it.  Well then why did Mark say he said it?

Others have taken an almost opposite approach.  They like a very human Jesus who might have bought into the stereotypes of his people.  So like all Jews of his day he was prejudiced against Gentiles and said this without thinking.  But, to his credit, he is a quick learner and the persistence and cleverness of the woman teach him to be more open to Gentiles.  With this approach Jesus models being willing to learn from a woman who teaches him tolerance.  Not a bad lesson. Maybe Jesus himself is realizing and resisting an understanding of his mission as to all people and all religions and that this radically inclusive approach will require his going to the cross.

A third approach contrasts how the Pharisees and legal scholars responded to Jesus after Jesus told them they were hypocrites with how this foreign woman responds to him.  They are offended and she is not.  What’s the difference?  What is she seeing that that they cannot see? Why is the insider scandalized while the outsider approaches Jesus without stumbling?  What is the stumbling block?

In last week’s gospel the Pharisees notice that some of Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands before eating.  Since this is an important ritual rule for them, they want to know why Jesus doesn’t make his disciples wash their hands too.  In response Jesus calls them hypocrites who insist the outside of their bodies be clean while they exude filth from the inside.  This filth can’t be washed off.  Is it the filth of thinking yourself better than your neighbor and casting them out, all the while telling people it is God who rejects them.  Is Jesus upset because God’s name is being dirtied?  They don’t like hearing this and reject Jesus for saying it.  Who does he think he is?  He is no better than they are.  They are on the same plane as he except maybe they are better because they wash their hands.

Could it be the woman accepts “the offense” of being on a lower plane than Jesus because she does not consider herself to be in rivalry with him?  She knows her place and she knows who he is and she is fine with that.  She doesn’t stumble out of rivalry with him. He is her Lord and she demonstrates this by falling before him. She exhibits a basic humility; an awareness that the Jews, as God’s chosen people, do rightly come first but with that established there is a place for her as well. It’s like knowing that we don’t belong in the intimate inner circle of another family but also knowing we do have a place with them if we don’t demand being the center.   She gives expression to all of this by saying “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Today we gentiles will be eating the crumbs in the bread of communion made available to us all.  Even those at the bottom, those who dwell under the table, those who consider themselves unworthy have been invited to eat the crumbs.  This Syrophoenician woman, the one from another religion, had a powerful insight that we are still being stretched to understand.  She sees that there are no differences with God and all are loved.

The Syrians and Iraqis heading north into Europe and the Europeans there who are afraid of them are equally valued and loved.  Hispanic people pressing our borders and those already here are just as loved as those of us who have been here a while.

The woman has pushed the dialogue outside the box of who’s in and who’s out.  She anticipates Paul who says in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.  She has no puffed up notion of herself to protect.  No way in which she feels qualified to be Jesus’ equal. She is free to embrace Jesus without being in rivalry with him for she knows he is her Lord.

When this woman came and fell at his feet it was not a manipulation.  It was worship.  When she claimed her place he replied, “Go on home.  The demon has already left your daughter.”

I wonder if the demon that left is the powerfully distorting idea that some humans are more loved than others.  It is a demon with many heads and hard to get rid of.  Jesus went to the cross and God raised him from the dead to caste it out.  I’m grateful for it means that I too can dare receive the bread of heaven.

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